Living in Japan
Natural Produce store in Nagoya

Natural Produce store in Nagoya

Added In: Living in Japan › Other

Yuko Suzuki

A one-minute walk from exit 4 of Kakuozan station sits a new store. A glass window is decorated with forest imagery, and a white display dominates the view. You might think it is a café at first glance, but it’s actually a specialty store selling fresh farm produce from Minami-Shinshu (the southern Nagano area) called “Minami-Shinshu Farm Products Market”.

Minami-Shinshu refers to the southern part of Nagano prefecture, around Iida city area. It is about 120km north of Nagoya, or 1.5 hours by car. Surrounded by the Southern Alps, the landscape retains its rural aspect, with terraces of rice paddies in the valleys, forested hills, crystal clear streams, and small farming villages. There is little, if any industry in the region; agriculture dominates, tourism supplements.

This region is famous for its fresh and tasty farm products, and they are delivered direct from there to the store in Kakuozan. They sell a wide range of vegetables, fruit, wild and cultivated mushrooms, and rice. They are particular about the quality and sell only the best products in season (no frozen produce here). Following the seasons, you can experience the freshest, natural produce throughout the year.

In our “give it to me now” culture, we can find cucumbers, apples and tomatoes throughout the year at supermarkets, irrespective of the season. Convenience brings benefits to our life, but at the same time can turn things upside down and inside out. We take for granted that we can eat beans in spring, cabbage in summer and corn in winter, when in reality that is just a function of a global production and distribution system. Perhaps we need to take a step back and understand what we lose when we prioritize convenience over seasonal production cycles.

I often buy rice here, and they are quite reasonably priced (3 different varieties priced at 400yen/kg, 450kg/kg, 500yen/kg). But the most important point is that it is sold as genmai (brown rice) and milled on request, so you can buy freshly milled white rice. As soon as rice is milled, the oxidation process starts and the rice starts to lose its flavor. Once upon a time, every rice specialty store used to have a milling machine, and it was not uncommon for people to buy their rice on a daily basis, to ensure the best freshness. But it is hard to find such a store these days. Since I usually eat brown rice at home for my health, but sometimes want to eat white rice, this is a service that I never undervalue.

Another thing I like about this shop is that they sell rare types of vegetables that I don’t see at other shops. Items such as Gabriel, a kind of bell pepper that tastes more like a fruit than a vegetable, or yukihime dake, a mushroom also known as abalone of the mountains. Production of these varieties is limited, so they are not distributed via the mainstream supermarkets. The manager and a couple of the other staff are from Minami Shinshu, so I always enjoy chats with them to learn about the background of these products. This kind of communication is also something we have lost, and cannot find at the large supermarkets or the 24-hour convenience stores. Knowing who produced the food I am about to consume, and how, raises the level of my awareness, and hence appreciation of, food. In turn this leads me to being much more thoughtful about how I use the food, and striving to waste less of it.

Back in the Showa era, there were 10 million farmers in Japan, but the numbers have been declining and now there are only about 3 million. Of this 3 million, only 10% are full time, and fully 60% of this 3 million are over 60 years old. And we wonder why Japan can only produce less than 40% of the food it consumes? Farmers struggle to find successors, as children leave for the cities, price dominates quality, and small sized holdings restrict economies of scale. One of the goals of this store is to promote Minami Shinshu agricultural products, in order to support farmers and revitalize agriculture in the region; some of the biggest customers are now high-end restaurants in Nagoya, always on the look out for quality, fresh produce. While we are faced with ongoing issues regarding the validity of the claims made in foods we purchase from supermarkets, be it brand hijacking, expired products being re-labelled, or even poisoning issues, buying food from a store where we can be 100% sure who produced the product, where, and when, is no small thing indeed. Here’s to Minami Shinshu Farm Products Market; I shop there every week because I know what I am buying, and it just tastes fantastic.

<Minami Shinshu Farm Products Market>
Address: Kakuozan Center Bldg. 1F, 9-18 Kakuozan Dori, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya city
(1 min walk from Kakuozan station exit #4)
Tel: 052-938-8318
Open hours: 10:00-18:00 (Closed on Wednesday) (Japanese only)

Natural Produce store in Nagoya
The real producer
Natural Produce store in Nagoya
Nagoya store front
Natural Produce store in Nagoya
The produce